Why is “privacy engineering” suddenly important?
Data Privacy and Security

Why is “privacy engineering” suddenly important?

At the very start of the twentieth century Abigail Robertson visited a photographic studio in Rochester, New York, to have her portrait taken. The image captured was beautiful. It showed a porcelain head and shoulders, turned in semi-profile, with brunette hair arranged neatly above the nape. This was a private family picture, which was sold into a public advertisement, and ended up plastered on 250,000 posters across the state.

Abigail Robertson sued for $15,000. Her consent had never been sought and her plea was mental distress. Her lawyer argued that she was not a public figure, she was a private citizen, and displaying her image against her will violated “the sacred right of privacy”. The press was on her side, the public were incensed and now, over a century later, it provides the start of a very long running debate about privacy.

Today people are still deeply (and justifiably) concerned about how their images are reused but now, more worryingly, a wealth of deeply personal data also exists. This means the parameters of privacy have expanded. So, while the moral battle on privacy may have been won over a century ago and the legal battle on privacy is gradually gaining ground, there are a whole host of logistical details that still haven’t been fleshed out yet. Legislation like the GDPR “right to be forgotten” brings this closer to the fore.

The EU’s GDPR rule comes into effect next year but while some clarity is emerging, doubt reigns. Find out what we know, and don’t know, about GDPR


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